By Tom Easterby - Newcastle United Club Reporter
At Villa Park
Aston Villa 1 (Tshibola 86)
Newcastle United 1 (Elphick own goal 28)
A late equaliser from substitute Aaron Tshibola denied Newcastle United victory at Aston Villa on Saturday evening.
Ex-Bournemouth centre half Tommy Elphick's own goal had given Newcastle a first half lead, as he turned DeAndre Yedlin's cross past goalkeeper Pierluigi Gollini to put Rafa Benitez's men in front just before the half hour.
United were forced to weather a second half storm, though, as Villa fought back, with Mile Jedinak having a goal disallowed and Jordan Ayew striking the woodwork.
But, after plenty of pressure from the home side, Tshibola's back-post header from an Ayew corner earned Villa a point with just four minutes remaining.
Benitez made five alterations to the team that beat Wolves 2-0 in the EFL Cup on Tuesday, with former Villa defender Ciaran Clark partnering Jamaal Lascelles at centre half, and Matz Sels, Dwight Gayle, Isaac Hayden and Yedlin - in for the suspended Vurnon Anita - all earning starts.
But within five minutes, the hosts had created an opening. Albert Adomah's long pass down the line found former Bristol City forward Jonathan Kodjia, who cut inside, but his shot was well blocked by the retreating Clark before it reached Sels.
Jonjo Shelvey saw a speculative 30-yarder deflected wide for a corner, from which United couldn't profit, and then tested Gollini with a free kick from a similar distance as the game began in open fashion, with both sides battling to seize control.
Another corner was played short by Matt Ritchie, and when the cross eventually came in from Paul Dummett, Yoan Gouffran couldn't quite get hold of it and Gayle's overhead kick from Lascelles' centre cleared the crossbar.
The Magpies then went even closer on 25 minutes as they began to exert some authority, when Ritchie pounced on some defensive uncertainty before playing a one-two with Hayden close to the byline and shooting, but Gollini blocked it with his body. Villa struggled to clear the danger, and Mo Diame's wayward shot meant the score remained goalless - but not for long.
Three minutes later, Hayden won a challenge down the right, feeding the overlapping Yedlin in the process. The American international whipped in a terrific low cross which Gayle looked favourite to get on the end of, but Villa skipper Elphick got there first, inadvertently diverting it past Gollini for the opener.
Left back Paul Dummett's venemous drive was deflected behind and an Elphick error just outside the area presented Gayle with a big chance to make it two, but Gollini saved with his feet as the visitors ended the half on top.
The second half started at a slightly lower pace, but Shelvey did warm the palms of Gollini with a dipping shot which the Italian stopper had to parry away. The marauding Yedlin, in his first league start for the club, burst forward at pace and played in Ritchie on the right. The Scotland international's cross wasn't cleared and it fell to Yedlin, whose attempt to loft it over the Villa custodian was just off target.
Villa, who had struggled to find any fluency in their play in the early part of the half, introduced towering frontman Rudy Gestede in place of Adomah just after the hour, but almost immediately after the change they could have found themselves 2-0 down. Shelvey and Gouffran combined down the left, with the former sending in a cross that was cleared back out to him. His second cutback found Diame in the centre of the box, but he couldn't apply the finish and the ball flew well wide.
The home side had the ball in the net midway through the half, but it counted for nothing. Ayew swung in a free kick which was met by summer signing Jedinak, whose looping header beat Sels - but the Australian and his team were denied an equaliser by the offside flag.
Then, with 18 minutes remaining, some clever play from Ayew presented him with a shooting opportunity as he cut inside, but his curling strike struck the post with Sels beaten.
With Di Matteo's charges in the ascendency in the final quarter of the match, Newcastle found themselves pinned back. On one break, though, Gouffran found Gayle on the left-hand side of the box, but his powerful drive was blocked by Elphick.
At the other end, Villa continued to apply pressure, with Tshibola going into referee Christopher Kavanagh's notebook after being adjudged to have gone down too easily in the box. Elphick then planted a header wide of the post from Ayew's fine delivery.
And their equaliser duly arrived in the 86th minute, as Tshibola met Ayew's cross at the back post, nodding in off the post to deny Benitez's side what would have been a second win in five days.
Aston Villa (3-5-2): Pierluigi Gollini, Leandro Bacuna, James Chester, Tommy Elphick, Nathan Baker (Aaron Tshibola 46), Jordan Amavi; Mile Jedinak, Ashley Westwood (Rushian Hepburn-Murphy 85), Albert Adomah (Rudy Gestede 63); Jonathan Kodjia, Andre Ayew
Subs not used: Mark Bunn, Micah Richards, Aly Cissokho, Alan Hutton
Newcastle United (4-2-3-1): Matz Sels; DeAndre Yedlin (Cheick Tiote 75), Jamaal Lascelles (c), Ciaran Clark, Paul Dummett; Isaac Hayden, Jonjo Shelvey; Matt Ritchie, Mohamed Diame, Yoan Gouffran; Dwight Gayle (Aleksandar Mitrovic 80)
Referee: Christopher Kavanagh
Bookings: Aston Villa - James Chester (41), Aaron Tshibola (79); Newcastle United - Jonjo Shelvey (26)